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Batou Romaine
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Legends of Andor Review


I've been eyeing Defenders of the Realm for some time, because I have heard it described as "Pandemic, only in a fantasy setting, and you're killing monsters instead of curing diseases."


When I saw the announcement about the release of Legends of Andor, On the surface, the descriptions of Andor sounds strikingly similar to Defenders of the Realm:

From Andor's press:

"Legends of Andor is a cooperative adventure board game for two to four players in which a band of heroes must work together to defend a fantasy realm from invading hordes."

From Defender's press:

"Defenders of the Realm is a cooperative fantasy board game in which 1-4 players take a role as one of the King’s Champions (Choose from Cleric, Dwarf, Eagle Rider, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard). You, as one of the King's Heroes make use of strategy, special abilities, cooperation, card play and a little luck in Defenders of the Realm for a unique experience every adventure. But be forewarned! There is never time to rest. As each Enemy General is struck down in battle, the remaining dark forces only grow more difficult to vanquish and their march to Monarch City gets faster with each Hero victory!"

Now, I have never actually played Defenders, mainly because the aesthetics of the game were a little too retro-cheezy for my tastes, even though it sounds pretty good. Legends of Andor, on the other hand, looked absolutely beautiful, and I discovered that this was in no small part due to the fact that the game designer is actually a career game illustrator, Michael Menzel. When I saw a copy sitting on the shelf in December, I decided to give it a shot, hoping it would be a fun co-op experience for the holidays.

To my surprise, Andor turned out to be quite a different game than a Pandemic style puzzle, and actually feels rather unique even in the field of co-operative games. While the general thrust of Andor is indeed to "defend the realm", you'll be spending a lot of your time doing more than simply keeping the hordes at bay. In fact, the most prominent aspect of the game isn't the individual mechanics, but rather in its narrative thrust. This is a game that tells a story, and it does an exceptional job of tying your tasks to the progression of each quests narrative. Some people might worry that the replayability is low due to the highly narrative nature of the quests, but as you play you will discover that there are unique wrinkles to each quest that makes replays vary in details, if not the larger picture, and that is good enough for me.

Quests progress along the line of a series of oversized cards which give story details as well as new objectives and rules. New cards are read as you reach certain points on the quest calendar. The quest ends when you reach the end of the calendar, whether you have completed your objectives or not. Objectives often involve retrieving some sort of item, although it's not a simply delivery errand, as you often have to discover where it is, and that isn't nearly as straightforward! The crux of most quests is that you must prevent monsters from reaching the castle. Let too many in and you will have lost your quest. However, killing a monster advances the quests calendar, and doing so brings you closer to losing as well, so you must chose wisely when you think it is necessary to engage an enemy.

The way that combat is designed is something I am not sold on. It seems odd that one of the primary distinguishing features of the characters is their combat style, but the game actively discourages them from fighting most of the time--winning combat moves the calendar forward. This means you are paradoxically closer to failure with each combat victory. While thematicically and philosophically that is really quite a brilliant thing to tie into the game's psychology, I feel that it also makes the gameplay feel oddly stilted. Instead of feeling like I am keeping the monsters at bay at all costs, I am trying to judge whether I can afford to let this monster reach the castle, because if I kill it other quest events will be triggered which will make my quest harder. In effect, you are trying to fight as few enemies as possible during a quest. The incentive this places on minimizing conflicts negatively impacts the sense of drama in the game for me, and seems like a missed opportunity to heighten the tension the narrative cards seek to create. That sort of decision tension also doesn't make me feel particularly heroic.

I also wish there were some way that there was more continuity in each of your characters from quest to quest. As it stands, your stat-line is pre-determined for each quest, so in the case of the Dwarf, if you manage to make it to your special shop and really build up your strength, that strength won't stick around for the next quest, and you'll have to run that errand again. Items must be repurchased each quest. The game does such a great job of creating a sense of progression in the story, it would have been great if they could have incorporated your characters into that sense of prorgression as well. I guess the answer there is that it's just not that sort of game, if that's what you're looking for.

I have found the difficulty level of Andor to be moderately low. I have only completed the first three quests, but I was able to succeed on the first try each time with myself and a friend. It is possible that the difficulty scales up with more than two players, but the challenge provided is far from punishing. I'm OK with that--it isn't a cakewalk either, and I certainly think that we could have failed the second and third quests if we had played it out just slightly differently.

My feelings about Legends of Andor remain somewhat torn. On the one hand, it is a pleasure to play simply because the components are some of the most pleasurable to handle and work with that I have ever encountered, the pacing of the game oozes charm and character, and the way that your quest evolves over the span of a session is really quite magical. I never regret taking it out with my partner or friends. On the other hand, the central mechanic of combat advancing the pace of the quest is something I haven't been able to fully embrace.

But on the whole, there a tremendous amount here to love and to delve into. This is a game that is hard to try to impart the pleasure of in a review, but despite the criticisms I have outlined above there is something very gentle about the ambience it creates that will charm you (although not necessarily thrill you). The sense of discovery and drama as your quest unfolds before you feels much more weighty and less abstract than a lot of cooperative games. If your group is big on cooperative games, this will be a treat.

Plus:
Fantastic components aren't just eye candy--they really take you into Andor.

Narrative structure is far more emmersive and less abstract than many co-ops.
Challenging without being soul-crushing

Playtime is manageable--about 90 minutes including setup/breakdown

Negative:
Little sense of character progression outside of an individual quest.

Incentive to avoid combat may turn off some players
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yegods
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thanks for the good review. My comment, is that something makes me think you're playing something wrong if you thought the legends were that easy. Legend 2 is actually quite difficult, especially with less than four heroes. Were you moving the legend marker forward with each monster killed? Just asking, because I've noticed a lot of people complaining the other way on the difficulty
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Nathan Milbrath
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yegods wrote:
thanks for the good review. My comment, is that something makes me think you're playing something wrong if you thought the legends were that easy. Legend 2 is actually quite difficult, especially with less than four heroes. Were you moving the legend marker forward with each monster killed? Just asking, because I've noticed a lot of people complaining the other way on the difficulty

Yeah, my girlfriend and I got wrecked on Legend 2. We've only gotten 2 plays so far, but trying to make sure the castle doesn't get overtaken and not advancing the time marker too fast by killing monsters really made it challenging.
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Batou Romaine
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yegods wrote:
thanks for the good review. My comment, is that something makes me think you're playing something wrong if you thought the legends were that easy. Legend 2 is actually quite difficult, especially with less than four heroes. Were you moving the legend marker forward with each monster killed? Just asking, because I've noticed a lot of people complaining the other way on the difficulty


Lol, Yes it is certainly possible we are doing something wrong, but remember, my main issue with the game is advancing the legend marker when you kill an enemy, so that isn't it. I've read through the rules forum quite extensively and I haven't found anything that contradicts our sessions yet, so I think we have just been lucky so far. Don't get me wrong, the game is far from easy, but when we sat and planned carefully we were able to pull each quest off successfully.

Thanks for your comments.
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Pierre
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avril14 wrote:
Lol, Yes it is certainly possible we are doing something wrong, but remember, my main issue with the game is advancing the legend marker when you kill an enemy, so that isn't it.


There is a FAQ on the website http:/www.legends-of-andor.com
Maybe there is something you did differently which made the game easier.

Regarding your criticism of the stat reset:
If you were to keep your stats, you would soon be heavily overpowered.
In the first 3 scenarios you will hardly be able to defeat a skral and would better stick together with a fellow hero.
If you kept your stats, killing them would be a breeze. The narrator would still move on with each kill, but since you spend less time in battle, the entire group has more in-game time to take care of the quests. There would be less day-night shifts, the narrator is moved less by this event and also you will have less event cards, which add to the difficulty and a bit of randomness of the game would be lost.
The need of working together would soon be gone almost completely.

This contradicts with the coop spirit of the game and I think it would loose a lot of the tension discussing the next steps with the other players because you can go on alone anyway.

I personally like the idea of being forced to work together and consider it well designed as it is.

Nice review.

Heavily edited due to some skral eating my posting...
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Batou Romaine
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nightye wrote:
[q="avril14"

Regarding your criticism of the stat reset:
If you were to keep your stats, you would soon be heavily overpowered.
In the first 3 scenarios you will hardly be able to defeat a skral and would better stick together with a fellow hero.
If you kept your stats, killing them would be a breeze. The narrator would still move on with each kill, but since you spend less time in battle, the entire group has more in-game time to take care of the quests. There would be less day-night shifts, the narrator is moved less by this event and also you will have less event cards, which add to the difficulty and a bit of randomness of the game would be lost.
The need of working together would soon be gone almost completely.

This contradicts with the coop spirit of the game and I think it would loose a lot of the tension discussing the next steps with the other players because you can go on alone anyway.

I personally like the idea of being forced to work together and consider it well designed as it is.

Nice review.

Heavily edited due to some skral eating my posting...



I completely agree with you about the stat line reset the way the game is designed. I just think that if the game design itself had taken character progression into account the overall experience would have been stronger, but I can certainly see why you appreciate the design for what it is. I think it is important to note that there isn't any character progression for prospective players who are looking for that in a game.
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Daniel Rodriguez
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I don't find easy to achieve the legends, it depends on the number of characters do you use in the game and of course in luck. I have read complaints about difficulty level: too hard for some players but they always were playing with two o three heroes, never four. In some legends luck could affect players more than others, and make to pass the legend very very hard o easy to achieve.
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Robert
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avril14 wrote:
... Incentive to avoid combat may turn off some players ...


Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it. Seems a little counter-intuitive in a game with this theme. Shouldn't monster bashing ALWAYS be a good idea? Then I think, what if Bilbo had killed Gollum ... hmmm ....
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Batou Romaine
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P.O.G.G. wrote:
avril14 wrote:
... Incentive to avoid combat may turn off some players ...


Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it. Seems a little counter-intuitive in a game with this theme. Shouldn't monster bashing ALWAYS be a good idea? Then I think, what if Bilbo had killed Gollum ... hmmm ....


Yeah, it seems like whenever we play it plays out like "Yeah! We stomped that Gor! Oh wait, advance the legend, great now we have this new stuff to deal with."

It definitely of takes the pleasure out of the combat for me, which is sort of seemingly contrary to the theme of the game.

I'm sure lots of people are dying to tell me why it's actually a brilliant master design stroke, but for my two cents monster bashing in a setting like this shouldn't be so punitive.
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Sean Shaw
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I look at it more like a cooperative story telling game overall. In that light, I don't see it so much as an advance your character hack and slash, as much as here's a legend from a long time ago, let's tell you about how it unfolds type thing.

It's not my favorite way to have a game, but I see it much more strongly in a story telling type game rather than a party leveling up and growing stronger together as they battle the forces of evil type game.
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Batou Romaine
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GreyLord wrote:
I look at it more like a cooperative story telling game overall. In that light, I don't see it so much as an advance your character hack and slash, as much as here's a legend from a long time ago, let's tell you about how it unfolds type thing.

It's not my favorite way to have a game, but I see it much more strongly in a story telling type game rather than a party leveling up and growing stronger together as they battle the forces of evil type game.


You are right, that is exactly where the game excels, and why I like it a lot despite my criticism. It just takes a while to adjust your expectations, or at least it did for me.
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Robert Huffman
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Great reviews on Boardgamegeek including all the comments! Thank you everyone, it really helps to make my decision on what to buy (especially when your not rich).
Sounds like this game isn't a "kill-many-monsters-survival-game", and more of a story telling quest based game. That is great because there aren't alot of games out there like this. It appeals to me, so I am off to the game store! Thanks again guys!
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Jeff Fike
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avril14 wrote:
P.O.G.G. wrote:
avril14 wrote:
... Incentive to avoid combat may turn off some players ...


Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it. Seems a little counter-intuitive in a game with this theme. Shouldn't monster bashing ALWAYS be a good idea? Then I think, what if Bilbo had killed Gollum ... hmmm ....


Yeah, it seems like whenever we play it plays out like "Yeah! We stomped that Gor! Oh wait, advance the legend, great now we have this new stuff to deal with."

It definitely of takes the pleasure out of the combat for me, which is sort of seemingly contrary to the theme of the game.

I'm sure lots of people are dying to tell me why it's actually a brilliant master design stroke, but for my two cents monster bashing in a setting like this shouldn't be so punitive.


I couldn't agree more with this criticism as I share it and it lowers my enjoyment of the game. King is poisoned, and killing a gor accelerates the rate of his death!! Thematically, it doesn't work for me.

You have to choose who to kill or allow into the castle and the game has a "time limit" which varies based on you doing the very thing you need to do to defend the kingdom.

The later legends are better; the game is definitely challenging but I would prefer increasing waves of monsters over a time limit which accelerates when you kill them.
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Juan Crespo
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schmoo34 wrote:
avril14 wrote:
P.O.G.G. wrote:
avril14 wrote:
... Incentive to avoid combat may turn off some players ...


Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it. Seems a little counter-intuitive in a game with this theme. Shouldn't monster bashing ALWAYS be a good idea? Then I think, what if Bilbo had killed Gollum ... hmmm ....


Yeah, it seems like whenever we play it plays out like "Yeah! We stomped that Gor! Oh wait, advance the legend, great now we have this new stuff to deal with."

It definitely of takes the pleasure out of the combat for me, which is sort of seemingly contrary to the theme of the game.

I'm sure lots of people are dying to tell me why it's actually a brilliant master design stroke, but for my two cents monster bashing in a setting like this shouldn't be so punitive.


I couldn't agree more with this criticism as I share it and it lowers my enjoyment of the game. King is poisoned, and killing a gor accelerates the rate of his death!! Thematically, it doesn't work for me.

You have to choose who to kill or allow into the castle and the game has a "time limit" which varies based on you doing the very thing you need to do to defend the kingdom.

The later legends are better; the game is definitely challenging but I would prefer increasing waves of monsters over a time limit which accelerates when you kill them.


The way I see this thematically is that for some legends the objectives are so much more important than killing the monsters. Think about it: in "real-life", if your mission is to find the witch, is it really better to stop to kill every monster in your path, or to stealthy move toward your objetive? If you focus too much on killing stuff you're losing focus on your real mission, and that reflects on the game progress.
So thematically I don't find the mechanics of advancing the game plot when you kill a monster wrong. I just think most people are very used to the power-up, slash/smash/kill-everything-in-your-way of most games in this genre.
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Batou Romaine
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[/q]

I just think most people are very used to the power-up, slash/smash/kill-everything-in-your-way of most games in this genre. [/q]


Well yes, but I also prefer a game where combat is encouraged, or at least on a neutral trajectory for player decisions, whereas here it is actually penalized.

I get what the game is trying to do.
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Matthew M Monin
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Quote:

Well yes, but I also prefer a game where combat is encouraged, or at least on a neutral trajectory for player decisions, whereas here it is actually penalized.


Actually, it's both. You receive rewards for killing monsters, and not killing monsters will lose you the game. So combat is encouraged - but indiscriminate killing will get you in trouble. You have to make your kills count.

-MMM
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Batou Romaine
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Octavian wrote:
Quote:

Well yes, but I also prefer a game where combat is encouraged, or at least on a neutral trajectory for player decisions, whereas here it is actually penalized.


Actually, it's both. You receive rewards for killing monsters, and not killing monsters will lose you the game. So combat is encouraged - but indiscriminate killing will get you in trouble. You have to make your kills count.

-MMM


Strictly speaking you are right, but it does feel more punitive than I feel like it needs to be.
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Mike Romeo
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Well thematicly it makes a lot of sense... I mean of course if you spend all your time fighting monsters time will pass by and you won't succeed...
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KingAnus3 wrote:
Well thematicly it makes a lot of sense... I mean of course if you spend all your time fighting monsters time will pass by and you won't succeed...


It actually doesn't make sense. There already is a time mechanic in the game. So killing a monster advances time and advances the legend. It's a two-fold punishment, either have one or the other.
You're supposed to defend a position, but doing it actually hurts you.
Makes no sense this way, in my opinion ...
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Matthew M Monin
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lazerlight wrote:
KingAnus3 wrote:
Well thematicly it makes a lot of sense... I mean of course if you spend all your time fighting monsters time will pass by and you won't succeed...


It actually doesn't make sense. There already is a time mechanic in the game. So killing a monster advances time and advances the legend. It's a two-fold punishment, either have one or the other.
You're supposed to defend a position, but doing it actually hurts you.
Makes no sense this way, in my opinion ...


Sure it makes sense - while the heroes are spending time fighting monsters they are distracted from pursuing the main badguy, who as a result is more aggressive at advancing his plots.

Andor isn't a game where the heroes can be indiscriminate killing machines. The assault on the castle is a distraction, so the heroes need to be smart about how they deal with it to not fall into that trap.

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Drake Depew
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Speaking as a family gamer I love the fact that indiscriminate power killing is eschewed in the game. There are hundreds of other games where bloodlust is part of the mechanics, and I'm grateful to have a game that tempers that mechanic.
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